Studies Say Horror Movies Can Help Burn As Many Calories As Exercise

04 August 2019
Movie, Film, Horror, Workout
Image: The Shining (1980)

Scare yourself thin

A study conducted by the University of Westminster says that watching scary films can trigger the same calorie burning reaction as exercise.

So you’d rather stay at home, snug on your sofa, and watch a movie instead of trekking all the way to the gym for about 20 minutes of exercise and that mandatory gym selfie? There might be something in it for you, by watching a horror movie.

The Internet has been abuzz with articles and posts about a 2012 medical study conducted by the University of Westminster that measured the total energy expenditure of ten different people while watching a selection of horror films.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr. Richard Mackenzie, a senior lecturer and specialist in cell metabolism and physiology at the university said: “Each of the ten films tested set pulses racing, sparking an increase in the heart rate of the case studies.”

The study noted that as the pulse quickens, pumping blood around the body at a higher rate, the body experienced a surge in adrenaline. The increase of adrenaline, usually produced by short bursts of increased stress (such as fear in this study) has been known to lower the appetite and increase one’s base metabolic rate (BMR), which means the body will burn more calories while resting.

The study listed the top ten energy-burning horror films (averaging 90 minutes) in the following order:

  1. The Shining: 184 calories
  2. Jaws: 161 calories
  3. The Exorcist: 158 calories
  4. Alien: 152 calories
  5. Saw: 133 calories
  6. A Nightmare on Elm Street: 118 calories
  7. Paranormal Activity: 111 calories
  8. The Blair Witch Project: 105 calories
  9. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 107 calories
  10. [Rec]: 101 calories

The calories burned are approximately comparable to about 30 minutes of light exercise, with the average 70-kilogram person burning about 150 calories walking at a speed of 5km/hour.

But let’s not forget, the human body will burn calories simply at rest, doing absolutely nothing. Around 60 per cent of the average daily intake is used up while the body is simply going through its normal bodily functions.

In an hour, an average 70-kilogram person will burn 61 calories while lying down. In the same time, the average person can also burn up to 88 calories sitting up and reading a book, up to 100 calories just standing in a queue, and up to 132 calories while texting.

It should be noted, that the study had a very small sample size of just ten people, and a relatively narrow scope of study that only measured participants’ metabolism in real time and did not track actual weight loss over an extended period of time. The study also did not compare the efficacy of watching a horror movie to other available weight loss methods.

What’s more is that the study was neither peer-reviewed nor formally published (i.e. not really meant to be taken seriously). The timing of the release also clues us in as to whether or not this study is legitimate: commissioned by the UK movie rental Service LoveFilm (since acquired by Amazon), the study was publicised just before Halloween. This possibly indicates that this was just a publicity stunt.

With that being said, the results do suggest that watching certain horror movies can temporarily increase heart rates and burn more calories compared to a small sample of adults just sitting quietly.

It might be easier to think of watching horror movies as “good stress”, with other studies having shown a link between temporary bouts of stress with increased immune function and activation, according to Professor Firdaus Dhabhar of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

The intense rush from a good scare has also been linked to a rush of hormones that help people feel less anxious and less frustrated immediately after the experience.

So if you’re at a loss for ideas on what to do at home this summer, buckle down with a couple horror classics (sans popcorn) to burn a couple more calories on your couch. But if you really want to keep up with your fellow Instagrammers and Snapchatters with those #summerready and #beachbod pics, you might do better to just head in to your local gym.

Via GQ Australia